Delaney was referred
by a former client who asked that I help his friend: her life was
"a total mess." The minute she walked through my door
that cold December day in 1997, I liked her: Delaney exuded soulful
warmth and goodness. She was guileless but tough; no saccharine
pretense. This lady was for real. But, Delaney was also defeated.
Defeated, tired, and seeking relief.
for 4 or 5 years, at times with suicidal ideation, she got little
relief from the antidepressant medication she had tried. She
found some comfort in a bottle or in the arms of a married man.
It was easy to see why any man would offer shelter: Delaney is a
beautiful woman! Tall, slim, polished, and graceful, she appears
to be in her early thirties. And sultry. Down to her pleasing accent,
this well-spoken professional woman was in the active process of
throwing her life away.
Her affect flattened
as she told me about her on-going divorce and custody battle...and
her inability to deal with either. She wanted to escape and wake
up when it was over. She had some guilt in having given up custody
of their young son, Dorian, to her husband. She explained that she
had given the child up because she could not keep her head above
water. At the time, she believed that the child's father would be
in a better position to provide good parenting.
Peter, her husband,
had centered his legal maneuvering around the child. Thinking that
giving Peter custody of their son would stop the war and allow the
two parents to get on with the business of co-parenting a child,
Delaney was sadly mistaken. Yet, a cease-fire is what Delaney needed
in order to get back on her feet emotionally.
She gave up Dorian,
but Peter was not through. He filed for an enormous amount of spousal
and child support. He got it.
tell me why she left her husband of 10 years. She had decided to
leave 2 1/2 years before she actually left, but stayed because Peter
needed her financial support to get through law school. Delaney
was not one to leave anybody in the lurches. Not even a person against
whom she had a standing order of protection (for repeatedly choking
her around the neck). Not only did Delaney minimize her husband's
physical abuse, but she totally discounted his verbal and emotional
abuse. Peter did not want the war to end. He seemed to enjoy jousting
with his partner, especially when she was down.
It took this lady
a while to make sense of what had happened to her; how she had allowed
Peter's subtle and not-so-subtle verbal and emotional assaults to
slowly wear down her self confidence over their 10 years. In the
habit of always giving others the benefit of the doubt, she saw
that no matter how much she "gave" Peter, it was never
enough. He always upped the ante, implying that what was given was
not enough and that was somehow her fault. She saw she could not
argue with him; he had a way of twisting words and coming out on
After almost a
year of weekly therapy sessions, Delaney is a changed woman. She
is strong. She is assertive. She is more inclined to get (appropriately)
angry rather than depressed. She has her days, but she can take
care of herself. Before she felt such actions were "selfish."
While she still hates to fight, she has surprised her husband by
standing up to him, in and out of Court. No longer helpless, Delaney
is suing for full custody of their child.
story does not end here. During the time when she was spent and
beaten down, she had the unfortunate experience of having hired
two lawyers, both of whom improperly advised her. She also had the
dumb luck to end up with a Judge who, even by her husband's admission,
was biased against her. Not only did Delaney lose her child, but
she also lost a huge chunk of her income in support payments. Finally,
on the brink of bankruptcy, she found out that her second attorney
had been chewing up her retainer with lip service! For months he
had stopped performing his job - though he led her to believe otherwise.
herself in a difficult predicament: no attorney, and, nearing bankruptcy,
she had no retainer to hire new counsel; the current lawyer would
not return the retainer or any part of it. Her salary was way too
high to entitle her to legal aid or similar representation. She
could give up her two-bedroom apartment and save money by renting
a studio, but doing so would jeopardize her custody battle on the
grounds of inadequate housing. Determined to win back custody, especially
since the child did not want to return to daddy, she took a second
job 5-nights a week. Ironically, as soon as her husband's attorney
found out, he informed her he would file for increased support based
on increased income!
The outcome is
still uncertain. What is outrageous is the legal system's lack of
understanding of the effects of abuse on the psyche: the depression,
the loss of self esteem, the inability to cope. The legal system
in particular does not understand that the abusive person looks
"good," while the partner does not. While provisions are
needed to assist the abused individual in need, especially one who
is helping themselves, the law makes none. In Delaney's case, the
law worked against her.
It is time for
a change. It is time to educate our legal system regarding spousal
See an Attorney's comments
to Dr. Irene
Delaney is doing very well. I hardly see her anymore. She's
doing all sorts of good things for herself. She still does not have
custody, but she is no longer a victim, and her ex has learned not
to mess with her. Her kid clearly prefers mom to dad.
Also, emails back and forth with the attorney above changed my
position that the legal system does not understand abuse phenomena.
Their hands, unfortunately, are tied. You can follow the "Attorney's
comments" hyperlink just above for the entire discussion, or
just read this post by the same attorney.